MASTER THE COCKTAIL’S ULTIMATE FASHION ACCESSORY
If cocktails were invited guests at a royal wedding, garnishes would be their fascinators – fashionable headdresses that add an extra touch of glamour. But apart from their visual appeal, they also perform a function, allowing the drinker the opportunity to get interactive with the drink and adjust the balance of flavours to their liking. A wedge of citrus perched on the edge of a glass, for instance, can be squeezed into the drink to add tartness and releases an aroma that amplifies the experience with a fresh fragrance. Garnishes should be assembled at the last minute, just before you pour the drink into the glass, especially when using fresh ingredients like fruits.
MINT AND OTHER HERBS
A cocktail garnish staple, if ever there was one, you can use it sparingly or as a bouquet depending on the style of drink. Single leaves look great when floating on the surface of a stirred drink, while sprigs and bouquets go well with crushed ice. Spearmint tends to be sharper and more refreshing than peppermint. Coriander and basil add a nice, herbaceous element and can be used in the same way as mint.
These delectable orbs of juicy sunshine can be cut lengthwise into wedges, into wheels, crescents and fans, turned into flags (stick a toothpick through a wheel or crescent involving a glazed cherry), or twisted for a spiralled flourish resting on the rim of the glass. For some pyrotechnic flair, try a flamed twist:
- Cut a round of peel (about the size of a R2 coin) off the citrus of your choice (orange works well). Make sure it is big enough so that it won’t split when squeezed.
- Light a match (not a lighter), let the sulphur burn off, then grab the peel between your thumb, index and middle finger.
- About 10 cm above the drink, hold the peel at a 45 ° angle about 5 cm above the flame, letting the oils in the skin warm up. Squeeze the peel over the flame. The oils will ignite and land on top of the drink, which will add a caramel-like flavour to the cocktail.
- You can drop the peel into the drink at the climax of your ritual. Rubbing the oils onto the rim risks overwhelming the drink with flavour.
CUCUMBERS AND WILD CARDS
Your options with cucumbers are essentially wheels or ribbons. Because you’ll be keeping the peel on, don’t settle for anything other than organic. The pesticides spoil the taste. Even so, wash them well to remove the wax coating, then trim off the ends. For a wild card, you can get inventive by pickling spekboom (although it makes for a lovely garnish when served fresh) or aloe. When opting for aloe, soak it in water to extract the slimy residue it gives off before pickling it. Aloes are naturally bitter and benefit from being pickled in syrup, or a complementary spirit.
APPLES, CHERRIES AND OTHER FRUITS
Suited to both stirred and shaken drinks, firm, tart apples (like Fujis or Granny Smiths) are the most cocktail-friendly pomes, although a firm golden pear should not be ignored. Slice or fan them, the choice is yours. Boozy cherries are a classic, but don’t spoil your cocktail by using cheaply spiked cherries. Rather soak your own in the brandy of your choice. Pineapple wedges add a tropical twist to a drink, while raspberries and blackberries add a touch of drama when shaken into a cocktail. Strawberries, on the other hand, give you the added option of perching them on the rim of the glass. Oh, and keep the leaves. They’re beautiful!
BITTERS AND SPICES
Finishing a cocktail with a splash of bitters on top (and leaving it to seep into the drink like a low-hanging thundercloud) brings both visual flair and aromatic intensity to a drink. Grating a high-quality chocolate over a creamy cocktail is seldom a bad idea. Cinnamon quills can be added to a spicy cocktail as a stirring stick or can be lightly grated over the drink. Similarly, a pinch of ground nutmeg has the power to raise an eyebrow or two (in the best possible way).